Cinema: John Wick - the action is relentless and incredible
John Wick, Cert: 16
Published 13/04/2015 | 02:30
Life has been cruel to Keanu Reeves, he has suffered some sharp losses, but remains by all accounts a decent, generous human being. Time however has been very kind to him and at 50 he looks remarkably unchanged from his early action hero outing in Speed twenty one years ago. He is therefore physically convincing in the title role of this high death toll revenge thriller.
John Wick (Reeves) hitman extraordinaire, has retired to a rather glamorous part of suburbia. He has taken up residence in the annals of hitman legend when his wife, the woman for whom he left his stellar killing career, dies of cancer. The film opens with Wick bereft at her funeral, receiving words of comfort from Willem Dafoe and taking delivery of the extremely cute puppy which his wife had arranged to arrive after her death. His classic car catches the eye of a Russian mafioso's upstart son, Iosef (Alfie Allen) and makes Wick the subject of a home invasion that ends in violence thus prompting his return from retirement. In order to save his son the mafioso Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) puts out a contract on Wick. Including a special one to supreme hitman Marcus (Dafoe). A lot of killing ensues.
As befitting a film directed by two former stuntmen, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, the action is relentless and incredible to behold. The plot is thin and predictable, the dialogue OK, there are some flashes of humour and Reeves delivers deadpan reluctant anti-hero perfectly well. If high octane action, or Keanu, are your things, this is for you.
If ever proof was needed that the naturalists were on to something by basing their drama near the kitchen sink or dinner table, this is it. A highlight of the recent Jameson Dublin International Film Festival - where it was a Dublin Film Critics Circle jury award winner - Force Majeure makes the kind of seismic emotional rumbles Ibsen and Strindberg strived for a century ago, all within the microcosm of a family holiday.
Writer-director Ruben Ostlund sends a seemingly perfect family - attractive husband and wife Tomas and Ebba (Johannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two children - up to a mountain-top ski resort and tests the limits of the relationship. This is done by way of a controlled avalanche the four view from a restaurant terrace. When it comes terrifyingly close, Tomas scarpers with his gloves and smartphone, leaving the rest of the family to fend for themselves. The result of this response to the danger, and his subsequent denial of it, unseams the entire family dynamic fundamentally.
They become that couple you pray you don't meet on holiday, passive aggressive to each other and trying to drag others into the storm. Ostlund employs a choice selection of characters to circle the family and exchange energies. Black comedy gold ensues while all sorts of bemusing visual metaphors punctuate the narrative from out on the pistes.
Few things will engross you as wholly as watching Kuhnke and Kongsli break apart and then reconstruct themselves as they do. Ostlund finely tunes every scene into a smouldering riot of body language, fragile egos and gender politics.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Twenty-one years on from the Nirvana singer's suicide at the storied age of 27, Kurt Cobain has become a major chapter in rock history, the moment when the bludgeon of thrash-punk kissed the pop sugar of the Bay City Rollers and millions upon millions surrendered.
All was changed, changed utterly, but one of the saddest parts of Cobain's gun-inflicted demise was the glamorising of his torment and the assumption that he was ever destined to leave this earth young, messianic and mega-rich.
Few modern icons have been the subject of as much psalm-singing, but no one has had the bravery to treat Cobain as what he was: a mentally and physically ill drug-addict who was also a ferociously ambitious artist. A tragedy, basically.
Step forward Brett Morgen, who, after countless documentaries and books have pieced apart the music and misery of Cobain, is intent on locating "Kurt the human being".
In cooperation with Cobain's family and widow Courtney Love, the US director was given unprecedented access to diaries, notebooks, camcorder footage and tape recordings, meaning that the most complete portrait of the grunge star has been assembled here.
There is a sober eye where it matters; Krist Novoselic is introduced not as "Nirvana bassist" but "Kurt's friend"; the camera lingers on Courtney Love as she chain-smokes and glugs water nervously during her interview; footage of the druggy couple at home with then-infant Frances (who is credited as an executive producer here) both demystifies and unsettles.
Rightly, Morgen also goes into that most ignored factor in Cobain's heroin habit, namely the painful stomach condition he lived with.
As the title suggests, this is a vibrant, textured and multidisciplinary scrapbook. Grainy shots, prescient hand-written notes and high-quality animations chart a course from sweet child to troubled teenager to reluctant voice of a generation. It fizzes and hums for its two hours, and like Nirvana's output itself, moves powerfully between jarring and harmonious.
One of the best rock-docs of the last decade.
IFI and selected cinemas
Stunning to look at and flavoured with something altogether from another time and place, Jauja is the latest cinematic experience of 2015 since the delirious wares of The Duke Of Burgundy moved on from movie houses. And like Peter Strickland's film, a space between reality and the else-world is inhabited. Keep an audience guessing and you keep them involved, seems to be Argentine film-maker Lisandro Alonso's mantra.
Just looking at the opening minutes feels like an event in itself; Viggo Mortensen, still picking only the most distinguished screenplays that arrive through his letterbox, is Dinesan, a Danish frontiersman in colonial Patagonia. He sits by a rocky coastline with teenage daughter Ingeborg (Viilbjork Malling Agger), the two trying to make sense of this world's end. Dinesan deflects unwanted attention from nearby soldiers to Inge with embarrassed bemusement. Inge, however, shares affection with a young soldier and the pair run away one night from the campsite into the hostile wilderness.
As Dinesan sets off in search of her, the woozy, mesmeric frequencies of Jauja begin to intensify. Shifts in time and geography become hinted at and everything begins to feel like the lost photographic negatives of another dimension. As it creeps towards its finale, Alonso's square frame drifts into surreal territory in a manner you will never have expected. A glacial, hypnotic masterpiece.
Barely a year after its publication, the film optioning for Tom Rob Smith's award-winning debut novel Child 44 was snapped up in 2009 by Ridley Scott. It has taken another six for the adaptation to see the light of day, but judging by the results, more time and care should perhaps have been utilised to bring Smith's dark and shady Soviet murder mystery to the big screen.
Scott has emerged as producer while Swede Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) directs. And while the latter has surely succeeded in brewing plenty of atmosphere and evoking a time and place of continuous threat at multiple levels - namely Stalinist Russia - this is a strangely distant film that seems more intent on rolling those Russian 'R's than reformatting Smith's tale with balance and pace.
None of this is the fault of Tom Hardy, who if anything is too convincing as the former war hero and demoted secret police officer in Moscow. When he refuses to hand over his wife (Noomi Rapace) as a traitor, they are exiled to a remote outpost run by Gary Oldman's stressed general. An unresolved distrust lies between the couple, but this is shaken off when they set out to track down a serial killer (Paddy Considine) who is preying on young boys.
Finding him must also be carried out on tippy-toes as Stalinist officialdom has, bizarrely, decreed that "there is no crime in paradise".
Child 44 is of course suitably dour and malevolent throughout, with some of the tones of violence and predation particularly gritty. But shots miss their target too often. Considine's killer is unmasked far too early, and the numerous strands of the tale - some of which, to be fair, are laced with intrigue - don't get tied up satisfactorily, which, after 137 minutes viewing, is not good enough.
Probably best to stick with the book version, so.
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